Easter Sunday: The Surprise!

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 28:1-10

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen

Holy Week is a good opportunity to read and re-read the four gospel accounts of the first Easter Day. There are, of course, many similarities and many large differences between them. The Gospels were written by four different writers, each with a unique perspective on this one event. These differences do not diminish any one account; rather they add a richness, a fullness to the whole story. 

I like the mention of the women bringing perfume and spices in Mark and Luke. My younger sister, on hearing one of these accounts at Sunday School, asked our Mum if she would please put perfume and spices on my sister’s body when she died. This was quite profound for a five-year-old: when she died, not if she died.

All speak of the empty tomb, the announcement of the Resurrection to the women, and the meeting of the disciples with the Risen Jesus. What is abundantly clear in all of them is that the Resurrection was completely unexpected. Despite his teaching, Jesus’ followers had no expectation that he would rise from the dead. The resurrection came as a wonderful surprise!

My hope is that we have not lost the surprise of the resurrection. Yes we have the benefit of hindsight and we know how the story ends but let us not lose the expectation, the surprise. Matthew’s Gospel account does not disappoint with the element of surprise! 

We might picture an Easter morning as a fairly mild affair;  the sun rising in a blue sky, birds chirping and the world feels peaceful and quiet with hot cross buns fresh out of the oven. The church looks at its best, the flowers are spectacular, the choir sounds good, and an enlightening  sermon while the timing of Sunday lunch ruminates in some minds.  

A closer reading of the gospels dispels this notion of a calm and peaceful morning. As the sun went down after Jesus was in the tomb, the waiting began. Not a peaceful, all-will-be-well waiting, but a restless, no sleep kind of waiting. Jesus’ followers had to prepare for the Sabbath, when any work or travel was forbidden. They had to stay home, rest and wait; wait to see what had happened, if Jesus was still in the tomb or not.  

Not to dampen the festive mood too much, but neither can we gloss over the events of that first Easter morning. Matthew is the only writer to note a great earthquake and the angel descending from heaven, who rolled back the stone and sat on it. The guards fell over and became like dead men. The Marys seem to have remained standing and were able to take in what the angel was saying to them. 

For Matthew, the only reason the Marys were there was to see the tomb. They were there when it was sealed so they knew the location. They had also seen the condition of Jesus’ body as they were at the cross. I am not sure if they wanted to see the body again, that would have been a horrible sight. Yet they were still willing to go, just to be there. The rolling away of the stone was so that they might get into the tomb. 

The angel had two messages for the Marys that first morning. 

Do not be afraid. The angel has come to help, not frighten. He encourages the Marys by assuring them that he knows about their mission: ‘you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified’.  

Many people live in fear. Fear of failure, fear of abuse or violence, fear of what other people think of them, fear of being found out, fear of letting ourselves or others down, fear of the unknown. Fear of death. In St John’s first letter he writes, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ Easter is all about love, there is no room for fear. 

The angel knew exactly what the Marys were looking for. He knew their fears, their confusion and doubt; and he addressed them. By showing up at the tomb, despite their feelings and their fears, the Marys receive answers and leave changed. There is a lesson in this for those of us who live with fears. 

We can bring our fears, anxieties and doubts to God so he can reveal his light. He knows. You aren’t hiding anything from him. The message of Easter is the overcoming of death and despair – fear brings death and despair. The resurrected Jesus came to banish all fears.  

After reassuring the Marys, the angel turns to commissioning them to do something. ‘Go quickly’. The good news of the resurrection is not something to be held on to. The Marys are to be messengers to the other disciples. Jesus was going to meet them in Galilee, they would see him there. Obedient to the instructions with fear (the good kind) and great joy they go. 

Suddenly Jesus meets them. This might have been the biggest surprise of the morning. I wonder if he jumped out from behind a big rock? Suddenly! No expectation from the Marys, Jesus is there in front of them. Do we expect Jesus to surprise us? How would we react? The Mary’s take hold of his feet, without shame or reservation, they want to hang onto him and never let go. Jesus wasn’t a ghost or an illusion; the resurrection body was real. 

We are invited in the Eucharist to meet with the resurrected Jesus, to exchange our fears, our slavery to that fear with light and life. We are invited to come, see the place where he lay; eat and drink in remembrance of what Jesus has done for us, and then go and tell so we too might walk in the newness of life.

All four gospel accounts start in both literal and metaphorical darkness, in confusion, fear and no expectations of the resurrection. Each account ends with the proclamation that the Risen Jesus is indeed light and life.    

May we approach this Easter with a new sense of surprise and reality at the Gospel. Surprise at the good news of Jesus and knowing the reality of Jesus in our lives today. He is Risen and ready to surprise.

Easter Sunday: Timing is Everything

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!
We decided to use Mark’s Gospel this Sunday – mainly it was practical as there are 6 services and 2 priests in the Hambleden Valley. As I explored Mark’s account of that first Easter, it became clear that it is the right story for today.

April 4th, 2021

From rockwellhouse.org

Acts 10:34-43
Mark 16:1-8

There is an old church myth about a young curate, having been asked to preach on Easter Sunday for the first time, got up into the pulpit and said: ‘Christ is Risen. There is nothing more to say.’ He then promptly sat back down.

In some ways, he is exactly right! Christ is Risen. He has conquered the final word of death; he has overcome the grave. He is Risen and we are saved.

There is more to say though!

Sue and I chose Mark’s Gospel for this morning which is not the popular one. Many of you might prefer John’s version with the beautiful portrayal of Mary Magdalene mistaking the gardener for Jesus. John has the tension and drama of Peter and John running to the tomb, Peter runs right in while John peers cautiously although he got their first. Mary, Peter and John all had their own reasons for being at the empty tomb that morning and we can reflect on where we place ourselves in this version.

Each of the Gospels has a slightly different account of that first Easter Day. All four Gospels have women being the first there. Mark (closely related to Luke’s ending) has three women Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This was and is a sad job.

They approached the tomb with their practical concerns of the giant stone needing to be rolled away. These women seemed to have no hesitation about what they might find inside the tomb as they seemed to have walked right in. They knew, at least in their minds, what needed to be done.

But their morning ritual is upended by the young man in a white robe telling them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Mark’s version does not have a glimpse of the risen Jesus or running disciples. We do not get the same sense of celebration or joy found in Matthew, Luke or John. The young man tells the women to go and tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. According to Mark they leave in terror and amazement and tell no one. This ending does not leave us with great feelings of hope!

Maybe this year, we need Mark’s version of the Easter story. Maybe we all need some time as the women did to sit with the terror and amazement at the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe we don’t need to shout right away.

I came across a little book by Thomas Merton called ‘He is Risen’. It begins with:

He has risen, he is not here… he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7)

Christ is risen. Christ lives.
Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.
He is the Lord of history.

Christ in the Lord of a history that moves.
He not only holds the beginning and the end in his hands,
But he is in history with us, walking ahead of us to where we are going.
He is not always in the same place.

Let this be a helpful guide to us this Easter Day. He is not always in the same place. But walks ahead of us to where we are going. He met his disciples in Galilee. Jesus was good to his word.

Maybe many of us feel dislocated from church, from our faith at this time. The enormity of what many people have endured in this last year is striking and largely unprocessed. All the loss and disappointment, the grief experienced. It would be disingenuous to stand up today and ignore that.

We will move on though in hope, in the glory of the resurrection. We see this in the Acts reading in Peter’s speech. Peter the zealous follower turned Good Friday denier turned Easter Sunday runner to being restored by Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee – is now preaching and teaching in Caesarea.

Peter knows what he is saying is true because he witnessed it, he lived it. Peter has taken the commandments of Jesus to share the Good News seriously and is living it out. It took him a while though. The women, did tell the others, we know they did because the other Gospels record it. We also know because if they hadn’t – we wouldn’t know any of the story as it would never have been passed on.

This Easter Day we can trust that God is still in charge of Easter – whether we are indoors, outdoors or on Zoom. The tomb is empty, death has been defeated. Jesus lives.

I will finish with a little more Merton:

Christ lives in us and lead us,
through mutual encounter and commitment,
into a new future which we build together for one another.
That future is called the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is already established;
The Kingdom is a present reality.
But there is still work to be done.
Christ calls us to work together
in building his Kingdom.
We cooperate with him in bringing it to perfection.